Anatomy of a Freakback

I had a classic Freakback experience while doing some free form meditation with the Heartmath device. I was sitting quietly and had achieved a Poised state while watching my Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurement on the screen. At 2:02 I saw the line jump up and can hear myself on the audio saying “What the heck?”


After that I can hear myself trying to figure out whether the device is reading correctly (as indicated by the red lines) then getting irritated that I have sat for a minute watching the reading go wild. Finally realizing I am Freakbacking, I start doing paced breathing and emerge back to Poise about 88 seconds later.

This session took place in a room with no distractions. I was relaxed, had nowhere else to be and was entirely set up for an extended period in a state of Poise. A distraction of some sort sent my HRV up and my attachment to that not happening did the rest.

Knowing how to avoid this reaction while taking on board real time data is a critical Quantified Self skill. Reacting to the notification “you are in Upset” with more Upset is and ironic and unwanted outcome.  User Experience designers should also take note – designing interactions that pull a user deeper into being mesmerised by their reading can destroy the purpose of your design.

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